Education

Embattled Ashjian succeeded by Rosas as Fresno Unified board president

Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas was unanimously voted Fresno Unified board president on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. She was elected as a trustee in 2016.
Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas was unanimously voted Fresno Unified board president on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. She was elected as a trustee in 2016. mmays@fresnobee.com

Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas is the new president of the Fresno Unified school board, replacing embattled Brooke Ashjian, who will continue to serve as a trustee.

Ashjian – who outlasted months of criticism and community appeals for his ouster – was eligible to serve as president for another year, but Jonasson Rosas was the only trustee nominated at Wednesday night’s board meeting.

Jonasson Rosas, who won unanimous approval as president, was elected to the board last year. She represents the Roosevelt High area and works as a liaison and community engagement director for the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission.

“It is a huge responsibility but it’s also an honor to be entrusted with the responsibility of the fourth largest school district in California,” Jonasson Rosas said Thursday. “I’m very humbled by the fact the board chose me to sit in this role.”

Ashjian sparked public outrage for his comments about the LGBT community earlier this year, criticizing LGBT-inclusive sex education and comparing gay rights activists critical of him to Ottoman Turks.

Since then, there have been calls for him to resign or for the board to demote him or serve him with a censure. However, Wednesday’s decision was part of a regularly scheduled annual vote on board leadership, mandated by the state education code.

When asked about the recent controversy, Jonasson Rosas said the conversation shouldn’t be about an individual, but about Fresno Unified as a whole.

“The presidency isn’t about any one person, and it certainly is not about me,” she said. “It’s about the organization and about leading the good work we have to do for kids. I’m looking to build consensus around what we can do to better our educational achievement and the outcomes for our kids.”

The school district wasn’t well served, letting this go with absolutely no repercussions.

Jason Scott, LGBT Fresno

Ashjian did not return requests for comment, but during a radio interview on Thursday showed his support for Jonnason Rosas. “It was my idea to rotate (who serves as president),” he said. “It should change every year.”

Also during the KMJ interview, Ashjian stood by the words that got him in hot water. “The truth of the matter is I didn’t kneel to the pagan god,” Ashjian said. “I stood for what I believed in.”

Noting that his term is up at the end of 2018, Ashjian’s critics have focused their efforts on asking the board to demote or remove him swiftly. While the school board addressed those calls for action at a meeting in October, a move to actually vote to reprimand Ashjian never happened.

The truth of the matter is I didn’t kneel to the pagan god. I stood for what I believed in.

Fresno Unified trustee Brooke Ashjian

“The school district wasn’t well served, letting this go with absolutely no repercussions,” said Jason Scott, president of LGBT Fresno. “Our hands were tied. If a teacher or faculty member had done what he had done, there would have been some action taken.”

Scott said he plans to hold the district accountable for a support plan Superintendent Bob Nelson promised for LGBT students in the aftermath of Ashjian’s remarks.

“We still expect for everyone to be respectful and to think about the lives that are being affected by their words,” Scott said. “We will continue to hold our elected officials responsible for their duties to represent members of their community, and in this case, the students, and make it a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.”

Also on Wednesday, longtime trustee Valerie Davis was elected as board clerk, replacing trustee Claudia Cazares. Ashjian was the lone “no” vote against her.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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